Monday, January 10, 2011

Youth in Revolt

Another hit from the new breed of US comedies: endearing and hilarious without relying on cheap tricks.

The last few years have seen the rise of a new subgenre of US comedy dramas.

Little Miss Sunshine and Superbad, but also Juno, Mama's Boy and Last Day of Summer were all, on average, less cheesy, more sombre and almost more European in their approach to romance and humour, turning a new leaf from to the late 90s/early 00s gross-out prototype of American Pie and Roadtrip.

Where ten years ago the template was the raunchy antics of testosterone-fuelled teenagers, and the soundtrack ska-punk and Blink 182, the new breed is more random, but also more reliant on quirks and black humour - and the background music a more subdued mish mash of indie-folk and alternative country.

And like its contemporaries, Michael Arteta's adaptation of the novel Youth in Revolt decides to focus on the life of a coming-of-age semi-nerd, a social outcast whose quest for romance is approaching desperate levels.

As always, Michael Cera is excellent in his interpretation. His character Nick Twisp is whimpier, clumsier and more sensitive, but also less popular and lonelier than most of his peers. To give you an idea, "I'm a voracious reader and listen to Frank Sinatra. So needless to say, I am still a virgin" is the way he describes himself.

Right from the start, the viewer is made to wonder how Nick can cope with his tactless family, a collection of a dysfunctional chain-smoking mother and her ex-con oik of a boyfriend on one side, and his "scruffy, graying father" (played by Steve Buscemi) with trophy "bimbette" on the other.

Nick's exsitence is so dull and stifling that even a short trip away on his mum and boyfriend's trailer feels like a welcome change. And it is there that, most unexpectedly, he casually bumps into his "cause to rebel": the all-things-French obsessive and teaser-of-the-highest-order Sheeni, Nick's only hope of finally reaching "the holy grail of manhood".

Except that it's not so easy. The way their romance unravels is just epic. Let's just say that, as the unlikeliest of allies, Nick is joined by his imaginary alter-ego Fran├žois. Based on Sheeni's ideal man (a comically brazen, no-bullshit, badass Frenchman), he is trying to spur Nick into winning Sheeni over and compete with her supercool semi-boyfriend Trent. Needless to say, a chain of complications ensues, some more random and inconsequential than others, but all pure genius when it comes to their entertainment and comedy-value. More we will not say, as you really have got to watch it to get an idea.

Youth in Revolt is at once endearing and hilarious without ever being over the top. A truly excellent film.

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